Being a Turk in California

Prof. Dr. Faruk Şen - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - ‘Being a Turk in California’ has many more positive connotations than being a Turk elsewhere in the world. The Turkish migrant population in the USA at present stands at some 440,000, close to the numbers in France and the Netherlands, two countries that attract a good deal of migrant workers.
California is a major Turkish migrant center now. That being said, the work of the Armenian Lobby, heavily entrenched in key points in the state, is impossible to miss. The Armenian Lobby has succeeded in enlisting the support of the press, the public, and the commercial world, while Turks have failed to reach similar audiences. One of the key factors here is that the majority of Turkish migrants settle in cities such as New York and New Jersey.

Despite relatively lower Turkish migrant numbers in California, the majority of Turks who settle in this state are much more elite. Californian Turks impressed me the most during my visit to the USA two years ago. Some conflicting numbers fly around concerning the Turkish population in the state. The most realistic seems to be that some 10% of Turks in America have settled in California, so the figure should be around 40,000 to 45,000. White-collar workers head this group.

Turkey is the third leading country in the world in terms of outward migration. China, whose own population numbers 1.3 billion, sent some 50 million workers out of the country, while India, with 1.1 billion, provides 40 million migrant workers. Chinese and Indians now function around the globe, from South Africa to the USA, from Kazakhstan to Tunisia. Turkey, with its population of 72 million, provides some 6.5 million migrant workers. It has been observed that in recent years, Turkish migrants have been moving not to the old favorite Europe but rather to the USA, Canada and Australia. This, then, makes Californian cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco particularly interesting to Turks.

Go to any large commercial center in Los Angeles today and you will see key positions held by Armenians who emigrated from Turkey. Turkish Armenians, and Istanbul Armenians in particular, serve Los Angeles in fine crafts, and especially in silver and gold; they left Turkey following the political turmoil of 1979, yet love their homeland all the same. Wander around the ‘Çiçek pasajı’ and you will be struck by scenes of Istanbul’s own Çiçek pasajı. Our Armenian compatriot, originally from Fenerbahçe, who runs the Balık Restaurant, will interrogate you about which team you support first off. Should you admit to being a fan of any team other than Fenerbahçe, you'll struggle to get served!

California is, at the same time, the center of many religious congregations. It’s not unusual to see Fethullah Gülen-style schools flourish here.

The potential of the United States of America in general, and California in particular, to attract and assimilate Turkish migrants, and the opportunities found here, appeal to Turkish students who might have looked to Europe for higher education at first. Of the 44,000 Turkish university students in the US, some 20% study in California. Another major distinction between European and American Turks deserves mention: American Turks are able to wear their star-and-crescent sweaters on Turkish Day parades, singing the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ and the ‘Istiklal Marşı’ all on the same day.

US Turks first place their hands on their hearts during the 24th of May Turkish Ball and sing the American National Anthem, and then sing the Turkish National Anthem in unison. European Turks appear far more reticent and conservative in this context. The number of Turks resident in Europe who know the national anthems of their host county are few and far between. American Turks who have assimilated well are able to maintain their ties with Turkey, while becoming good US citizens at the same time.
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07